The Armchair Liturgist: Baptism Dilemma

Recently I was speaking with a colleague who was concerned about her pastor’s liturgical practice. I thought this might be a matter especially for the clergy in my reading audience as to how to handle a rather delicate situation.

My friend is a pastoral associate, working for a priest about twenty years ordained. He doesn’t seem to use chrism for infant baptisms. According to my friend (and I hope I have this wrong) the required anointing in his view is to be done with the oil of catechumens after the baptism. The pre-baptismal prayer of exorcism is done without oil.

(Just for reference the pre-baptismal exorcism is optional, but the anointing with the oil of catechumens accompanies the prayer. Chrism is always used after infant baptism. I reminded my friend of this and she thought she had it right.)

When my friend gently approached him that his practice was incorrect, he rebuffed her. Would a liturgist’s viewpoint help? I didn’t think so. So I’ll turn it over to you.

How would you approach this priest if he were your pastor? Or a brother priest in another parish? Is this a grave enough issue that you would speak with him were he not your pastor? (Do you think I should butt in?) Would you just call the bishop or the dicoesan liturgy office?

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Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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12 Responses to The Armchair Liturgist: Baptism Dilemma

  1. Padrevic says:

    oh yes that is all I want in my life is a liturgist telling me what to do…good luck with that ;-)heheheh

    All kidding aside, I think the way to go with it, and most situations like it, is for the person involved (not well intentioned professional friends) to use the the “Fr. could you help me understand this better?” or better known as playing dumb gambit. Because sad to say most of us (priests) have a whole bunch of our ego stored up in what we know or what we think we know. It takes a huge dose of humility for me to acknowledge when I am wrong or don’t know something (like I think I do), but when I do I am better off for it.

    peace to all

  2. Daniel says:

    In the case where clarification was made and then correction was rebuffed it seems a natural course to seek a higher authority to intervene and in this case it may be the best course of action. Generally, I have this sense of the shared priesthood which compels me to take responsibility to “correct” or more to the point “bring into conformity” anything of this nature. I’m not sure I would butt in, this may be a growth experience for your friend.

  3. FrLarry says:

    Here’s what I would do: Contact the liturgy office and ask the chief liturgist, but keep it just as a general question, without names. (E.g. “I have a strange question… Can the post-baptismal christmation be skipped in the rite of baptism?” You don’t have to even say what parish you are from. When the liturgist duly informs you of the correct practice, thank them and call the dean of the deanery. Tell him you are concerned with a liturgical practice in your parish by your pastor. Tell him you checked with the diocesan liturgy office, so that he just doesn’t blow you off as a liturgical nut case. That puts the ball in his court, because he doesn’t want the parishioner moving it to the bishop’s office where the dean will have to explain to the bishop why he didn’t do his job as dean if he doesn’t do anything. Tell the dean you’ll be checking with him later to see what’s he’s done. If he refuses to do anything, take it to the bishop’s office and explain that you took your concerns to the priest involved, and then you checked with the chief liturgist to make sure you were right, then you talked to the dean and he didn’t do anything, and then as a final step reluctantly informed the bishop. The bishop will be impressed that you are just a simple soul who really wants to get the right thing done without grinding an ax. Be humble and charitable. The bishop can handle it in two ways: 1. Address the priest directly involved and/or 2. bring it as a general item to the next diocesan priest’s gathering for priests to correct. If one priest it doing it, other priests may be doing it to. Remember, be charitable!

  4. Jim McK says:

    I am not a priest or a liturgist, at least partially to avoid situations like this. I have been catechizing adults for some years, which means illuminating decisions made by priests and liturgists.

    So what can be illuminated here? Assuming this is about more than just following the rubrics, what meaning is being presented or lost?

    1> the obvious: the oil of catechumens is for catechumens, chrism is for Chtistians. Why would one use OC on a baptized person?

    2> The norm is adult baptism iirc. There the anointing after baptism is a full fledged sacrament, Confirmation. Since those who are baptized as infants receive two anointings, once at baptism and again at confirmation, is it appropriate to reserve chrism for confirmation and use something else (OC) for baptism? Or should the link between baptism and confirmation be emphasized by the use of chrism at both?

    At this point, I would not have to play dumb. I would just want to know why the priest is doing what he does.

  5. Deacon Eric says:

    I appreciate the intent here, but the reality of the situation is that priests, in my experience, greatly resent any kind of correction, no matter how gently or diplomatically phrased. If the priest has already rebuffed correction, escalating it may cause him to seek retribution.

    Priests do things that violate liturgical praxis and theology every day. And it’s tough for us who have received advance training in liturgy to silently bear these things. John XXIII said something like “Observe everything, say nothing, change little.” Due to the way the priesthood is today, we can really only correct such things when the priest is open and collaborative–which is rare. At least this priest has a rationale — as wrong-headed as it is. For many priests, it often seems the only reason they adapt liturgy is to make it faster or easier.

  6. FrMichael says:

    As a brother priest, I once told the pastor his error (he omitted both anointings) in a non-threatening way. After he told me to f— off, I did nothing since the baptisms are valid (albeit illicit) and I knew the diocesan liturgist and bishop wouldn’t intervene. Sorry to say, the diocesan liturgist knew about this and was terrified of the pastor. As was the bishop.

    The above is an anecdote from my early years as a priest.

    Unless the pastoral associate wants to get fired, I suggest she grin and bear it.

  7. I’m sorry some of our priests are like this (maybe most, I don’t know). I try, but I know I don’t get everything right, and if a member of the faithful raises a reasonable question, s/he deserves a reasonable response. And a priest should not be above admitting error, nor accepting correction if they’re being sloppy.

  8. Nick Wagner says:

    In my experience, there are three kinds of priests. (There are three kinds of everything.)

    1. Excellent priests to whom I should pay attention and learn from.

    2. Incompetent or lazy priests who haven’t cracked a book since seminary.

    3. And a very broad middle range of guys who are working hard to be faithful to their vocation, doing a lot of good work, failing at it once in a while. Pretty much like the rest of us.

    If the guy violating the rubrics is in either of the first two categories, there isn’t much I can tell him.

    If he’s in the mid-range group, I’d try to find things he’s doing well and reinforce those points of excellence. Pay attention to what he’s doing right, and thank him for it. After about a year of that, you will have created a safe relationship in which you can offer constructive advice. (This works with non-ordained bosses, too. And spouses.)

    Nick Wagner
    TeamRCIA.com

  9. FrMichael says:

    Question to Mr. Wagner:

    Why not question a priest in your first (“excellent”) category? Perhaps if he’s violating rubrics it is something unintentional on his part. By your categorization I would be in category #3 but I have been corrected (thankfully) by liturgists and other priests for unintentional liturgical errors I have committed.

    Just a thought.

  10. Nick Wagner says:

    Fr. Michael,

    You make a good point. I suppose I meant I probably wouldn’t have much to say by way of “correction.” I probably would ask why so I could learn something. Everyone diverges from strict adherence to the rubrics at some point. My experience with excellent priests (or excellent liturgists, or excellent anyones) is they do so, with intention, only after having carefully considered the positives and negatives.

    It’s hard for me to imagine someone having a good reason for omitting the anointing after baptism. But if someone I respected did omit it, I’d first assume he had a good reason for doing so.

    My larger point was that most people do things right most of the time, and we might want to put more energy into affirming what goes well.

    Nick Wagner
    TeamRCIA.com

  11. I would like to speak to or email Nick Wagner directly. How may I do this?

  12. Maybe here: http://teamrcia.com/contact/ is a start and he might contact you directly from there if you leave an e-mail address.

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